Increasingly precarious work of journalism
Journalism is a notoriously precarious profession. Downsizing and layoffs are almost routine, and many journalists find themselves bouncing between news organizations and periods of freelance work during their careers. Yet journalism is not the only precarious profession — for decades, scholars have been documenting the increasing precarity of employment.
There has been a rise in freelance and gig work in low-skilled jobs such as care work, domestic services, trade work, delivery services and transportation. And there has been a recent increase in gig work in higher-skilled fields such as information technology and creative work as well. People in these precarious fields of work describe their work as intense and demanding, but at the same time, unstable and insecure.
As scholars of work and organizations, associate professor Erin Reid and Farnaz Ghaedipour wanted to understand how people in fields offering mainly precarious employment handle the day-to-day demands of their work as they navigate this instability. We analyzed in-depth interviews gathered from more than 100 journalists — some employed full time, others working as freelancers — about their careers and work experiences.
Our interviewees described their work hours as unpredictable and dictated by the news cycle or editors’ demands. Journalists also described being expected by editors to be geographically mobile for their work, either within a given job to report a particular story, or between contracts in order to move upward or to simply remain in the occupation.
The journalists we studied were caught between intense demands from employers for near-total commitment and persistent anxiety and financial insecurity rooted in the precarious conditions of their work. We find that they make peace between these different pressures by, for the most part, making themselves fully available for their work, and leaning on their families to make up the gaps.
Their research also suggests that the gig economy imposes costs not only upon the workers, but also upon their families of origin, the families they create and the families they choose not to create.